I hear this question pretty frequently. I also hear the question: Is Tijuana safe and sometimes I hear that from Brazilians. So what can we say when a night club fire in the interior of Rio Grande do Sul killed some 250 predominantly young people yesterday. I guess it is not that safe. Certainly Brazil has standards and fire marshals but the problem is that enforcement is weak. I am sure the night club has to get an inspection before opening but it is possible that greed led to overcrowding and disaster in an eminently preventable situation.
What about crime? There are several ongoing discussions on LinkedIn and elsewhere. Is Rio safe now that the UPPs have been set up? Has crime risen in Sao Paulo as the UPPs drove gang leadership to Paulista turf? I am not sure what the current State Department recommendation states about Brazil. Probably, as bureaucracy must be they urge caution and perhaps more when you go on the increasingly popular favela tours.
I cannot be too cynical here, but the advice to avoid Rolex watches (even imitations) and fancy jewelry has always made sense to me. I don’t really respect the sometime ostentatious nature of rich Brazilians or the so-called naiveté of foreigners sometimes feigning they no better.
In developing societies with weak institutional structures and gross inequalities, there will be different levels and different perceptions of safety and street crime. If you are going to Compton, with your bling, I suggest you should know what you are doing. Likewise in Brazil.
Take care, be alert, be simple, be street wise if you can. If you cannot then have your driver chose the armored car and make sure your body guards are close.